Neil Sinhababu has a smart take on the NR Sotomayor cover:
[T]he way I see the joke actually depends on incongruities between the stereotypes of the nonwhite ethnicities involved. The Buddha-like pose and Asian features are tied to lofty pretensions of sagelike wisdom. And what sort of person is it who’s pretending to be some kind of sage? A Hispanic woman! As if.
The in-joke in this cover is for people who have already internalized a stereotype of Hispanic women as hotheaded and not that bright. Put one of them in the Buddha suit, and if you’ve absorbed the right racist stereotypes, the incongruity is hilarious.
I think that definitely captures some of what’s happening here. It should also be said that some of the ugliness of this whole thing clearly stems from the whole dysfunctional relationship our political system has to Supreme Court appointments. I remember from the Alito nomination that it’s somehow very difficult to articulate the view that “the president is someone whose ideas I think are wrong so I’m convinced that his SCOTUS pick also has bad ideas, but those who like the president are bound to see this differently.” Instead, there’s incredible pressure to “unearth” the “truth” about the nominee and how deep down he or she is history’s greatest monster.